The Rule by Jack Colman

8/10 A well-crafted and engaging work of historical fiction.

The Rule, set within the mythical Viking kingdom of Helvik, is the debut novel of Yorkshire author Jack Colman. It is a well-crafted and engaging work of historical fiction that has this law – or rule – at its centre: No person of Helvik may kill another person of Helvik. ‘Any person who breaks this rule is no longer a person of Helvik’. This law, this rule, has been established to prevent the blood feuds that have led to endless deaths in the past and how it works is very simple – as a citizen of Helvik no-one is allowed to kill you. Why? Because the murderer would immediately lose their citizenship and their life become forfeit, leaving them open to immediate execution with impunity.

Gunnarr, upon whom this story focusses, has appointed himself enforcer of this law, defending the weak and unavoidably making himself many powerful - and vengeful - enemies. When he visits retribution upon the murderer of a young friend he finds himself embroiled in a sinister plot with power at its centre. And if that is not bad enough, an invading army stands at Helvik’s door.

The idea The Rule book sprung from a class the author attended at Kings College where the lecturer mentioned that ancient societies where often governed by a single law. Colman immediately sketched out the book’s events and a few months later, the book was finished.

I found The Rule to be a strong debut and a worthy addition to the historical fiction genre. Although it may not have grabbed me from page one by the time I was half-way through I was very much enjoying the character interactions and intelligent plot progression. It was a very easy book to read, one that I was always eager to pick up, thanks to its thoughtful themes and page-turning narrative. I liked that the main character Gunnarr was far from faultless – indeed I would have to say that I never really warmed to him due in part to his headstrong and righteous attitude and also his behaviour towards his infant child. That this made it difficult to like him was actually okay – it was really just important to feel empathy and respect, both of which I did.

There were pleasant contrasts, ranging from the moments of drama and excitement to moments of poignancy. I would recommend The Rule to readers who enjoy action-packed historical fiction, and especially recommend it to those who lover everything Viking.

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